What Do Environmental Engineers Do?

Growth Trends for Related Jobs

Environmental engineers use their science backgrounds to identify and address humanity's negative impact on the environment and our world. Because of the earth's growing population, the importance of minimizing and managing waste production is crucial. The worlds of industry, mining and factories dominate our society. Unfortunately, they also create pollution. We need experts like environmental engineers to help establish systems for reducing waste and pollution and protecting the air, water, soil and ourselves from the effects of pollution.

What Do Environmental Engineers Do?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, environmental engineers "use the principles of engineering, soil science, biology and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems." They work to improve recycling efforts, waste disposal, public health and to control water and air pollution. They also address global issues, such as unsafe drinking water, climate change and environmental sustainability.

In addition to controlling pollution, environmental engineers also design systems, processes and equipment to help clean up polluted areas. The systems they design help restore air, soil and water quality at sites that have been contaminated. Some environmental engineers even work on the front lines of the clean energy economy, developing systems that convert waste into electric power.

Some environmental engineers research and study ways to minimize the effects of acid rain, climate change, auto emissions and ozone depletion. To address environmental problems and sustainability, environmental engineers often collaborate with environmental scientists, urban and regional planners, hazardous-waste technicians and other engineers. Their projects may also involve working with legal and business experts.

How to Become an Environmental Engineer

In order to gain a position as an environmental engineer, most companies require a minimum of a bachelor's degree in environmental engineering or in fields like civil or chemical engineering. Some undergraduate and graduate civil engineering programs offer concentrations in environmental engineering.

Experience is key. Prospective environmental engineers are encouraged to participate in an internship or cooperative engineering programs to gain hands-on experience in the field. These programs award college credit for structured job experience and help students develop real-world skills that prepare them for the rigors of their field post-graduation.

According to, some colleges even offer a five-year program that leads to both a bachelor's and a master's degree. Programs like this can be a great opportunity to gain useful knowledge and may open up opportunities in research and development fields.

It is important to note that engineers who offer their services directly to the public must be licensed as professional engineers. Licensure generally requires:

  • A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
  • A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering exam
  • Relevant work experience
  • A passing score on the Professional Engineering exam

How Much Does an Environmental Engineer Make in a Year?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of environmental engineers is projected to grow at a faster-than-average pace between now and 2024. Jobs will increase by about 12 percent during the next decade. In 2016, the median annual salary for environmental engineers was $84,890. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $49,830 while the highest 10 percent earned more than $130,120. For those with a passion for conservation and taking care the environment, pursuing a degree in environmental engineering may be a lucrative and fulfilling career prospect.